Denby Dale Pie
The Denby Dale Pie
Denby Dale is a tiny village in Yorkshire, England. It is famous for its pies and when I say that, I don't mean regular ones.
These are made to celebrate special occasions - there have been ten to date - and they are big, monster, giant, humongous meat and potato versions that serve hundreds of people. The last Denby Dale pie was 40 feet long.
This eccentric English tradition has its roots over two hundred years ago.On Denby Dale Pie Day the pie itself is paraded through the streets in front of huge crowds and taken to the Pie Field - yes, there is a special location - where there are fairground rides and sideshows to add to the festivities.
The luckiest people get to eat a piece of the dish and a good time is had by all.
They are created roughly every twenty years and I have attended two of them (which is giving my age away) and I can guarantee that a Denby Dale Pie Day is a great event. What was the food like? To be honest, I only managed to get a piece the first time I went which was so long ago that I can't remember!
Denby Dale is a charming village that is typically Yorkshire set in a rugged landscape with fields that feature drystone walls and ancient buildings created from the local stone.
The first event - 1788
Yes, the Denby Dale Pie goes back as far as 1788. In that year, the king, George the Third, was considered to be mad. It's thought that this illness was caused by (accidental) arsenic poisoning but he was generally considered to be off his trolley.
However, in 1788 he recovered.The good people of Denby Dale thought that they would like to celebrate this and for reasons that are lost in the midst of time, they decided that a monster meat and potato pastry would do the trick.I'm imagining three old lads discussing the matter sitting in front of an inglenook fireplace, drinking tankards of ale in a local tavern...
"Well lads, it looks like the king's on the mend."
"We should do something to celebrate."
"Aye. Get another round of ale, Walter."
"No that's not what I mean. I mean a big celebration."
"We could make a huge meat and potato pie for instance."
"What d'you think Walter?"
A pie? Not an ox-roast? Not a Morris dance? Or a grand feast?No, a pie. A meat and potato one. How very Yorkshire.
Now having the taste for meat and potatoes, as it were, the villagers of the town decided that it was a good idea to have the event on a regular basis. In typical fashion, they didn't decide that it would be every twenty years or anything particularly organized. I think that it was more a case of "we haven't had one for many a year. What shall we celebrate this time lads?"
- 1815: This version was made to celebrate and commemorate the end of the war with France. England and France had been having periodic wars ever since 1066 when the French decided that they'd like to rule England for a while (not that we let them get away with it for long). This time the event was to celebrate the end of the Napoleonic War.
- 1846: Evidently the villagers were so pleased with the end of the Corn Laws in this year that they thought a special event might be in order. You can see why. England was importing grain from other countries and, as the region was a rural farming area, this was affecting the livelihood of local farmers. The laws prevented these imports.
- 1887: In this year, there were two pies cooked but the second wasn't originally intended. The first was created to celebrate Queen Victoria's jubilee. Unfortunately, it was found to be inedible. Undaunted, the people of the village simply baked another.
- 1896: The villagers had obviously been so delighted by the repeal of the Corn Laws that they celebrated it's fiftieth anniversary with another event.
- 1928: The people were looking for a good excuse to have another special day. They couldn't really find a suitable recent event so decided to commemorate the end of the First World War. That had been ten years previously but never mind, Denby Dale got there in the end. The village is situated in the middle of a triangle formed by Barnsley, Wakefield and Huddersfield so this time the event also raised money to help the Huddersfield hospital.
- 1964: Looking around for an excuse to have bake yet another huge meat and potato pasty, the villagers realized that there had been four royal births that year. That'll do nicely. This was the first one I went to and the main thing I remember, apart from the tremendous crowds, was that there was a freak show in a tent ... sheep with two heads, chicken with three legs, enbalmed Siamese twins and that sort of thing. As a youngster, I thought it was wonderful. Yes I was a weird child.
- 1988: I was grown up by the time this one rolled around so thanks to spending a large amount of time in one of the many beer tents, the whole event was a bit of a haze. Why was this year chosen? Think back - the first event was two hundred years ago. There was a Denby Dale Pie to celebrate a Denby Dale Pie - that's Yorkshire logic for you.
- 2000: I missed this one because I was living in the States by this time. But guess what the village was celebrating this time? Yes, the millennium. That's really pretty obvious and I'd frankly expect something a bit more bizarre, wouldn't you?
- 2012: To commemorate the Queen's jubilee and the London Olympics, a replica of the 1887 was made - this time, it was edible.
When I think about the Denby Dale Pie I sometimes get a lump in my throat and my eyes water a bit. Why? It 's the commemorative pie plates.
You see, my mum used to have a plate rack running round the dining room in her house. It was just a few miles away from the village and she had one of every single commemorative plate. The first one she had was the 1964 plate but after that, she scoured junk shops and antique stores until, after several years, she had the entire set. When the 1988 event came round, she bought one of those too.
ThenI think about the 200 event. Did my mum have one? I don't know, I'd moved to the States by then and by the time I next saw Mum, she'd moved out of her house into sheltered housing and her plates weren't displayed due to lack of room. I don't know where they were. It's not the thing you think to ask when you're catching up on news.I'll never know now.
- It's said that the 1846 pie wasn't eaten because the platform that was holding it collapsed breaking the pie onto the ground. At the time, this was thought to be an act of sabotage. The nearby village of Clayton West (where my dad used to live incidentally) was planning their own huge plum pie and it was thought that they had deliberately sabotaged their neighbor's event. Feuding villages are a pretty normal Yorkshire thing!
- The 1815 version, made to commemorate the end of the Napoleonic War. is said to have been ceremonially cut by a villager called George Wilby - who had fought in that very war at Waterloo.
- The 1887 version that was inedible had actually been prepared by a professional firm. It was so bad that it had to be buried in the woods nearby.The second perfectly tasty one which replaced it was made by the ladies of the village.
- The frugal Yorkshire folk used the same huge dish for the 1896 as they had for the previous one although I can't imagine where they stored it. During the Second World War it was melted down for metal towards the war effort.
- The 1964 event proceeds were used to build a new village hall, appropriately called the Pie Hall.
- The 2000 version received a blessing from the Bishop of Wakefield. In addition to the millennium, it also commemorated the 100th birthday of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. This was appropriate because a silk mill in that very village had provided silk for her wedding dress when she had married in 1923
- The dish in which the 1964 meat and potato pie was baked can be seen outside the Pie Hall in use as a planter.
The dish now used as a planter
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It's very rare today to find genuine antique plates commemorating these weird events.
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© 2013 Jackie Jackson